The Reign of Terror has washed the streets of France blood-red. And in England a terrified aristocracy awaits the next blow.
Secure in their wealth and power, the noble Lazenders remain safe from history's violent storm behind the walls of their opulent "little kingdom." But theirs is a house under siege. With the family's heir, Toby Lazender, away in revolution-torn France hunting the brutal murderers of the woman he loved, a secret cabal of powerful and dangerous assassinsýthe Fallen Angelsýconspires to bring the chaos to England's shores by seizing the vast resources of Lazen Castle.
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June 28, 2005
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Excerpt from The Fallen Angels by Bernard Cornwell
Fear, like the rumor of plague, can empty a city's streets.
Paris, on that hot September evening of 1792, seemed empty. The citizens stayed behind closed doors as though, after a week of slaughter, they were suddenly ashamed of the horrors they had fetched on their city. There was a silence in Paris, not an absolute quiet, but a strange, almost reverent, hush in which a raised voice seemed out of place.
Fear, on that evening, smelled like a charnel house.
Four horsemen rode through the streets. There was a menace in the sound of their hooves, a menace that made the hidden, listening citizens hold their breath until the sound passed. Death had become a commonplace that week, not decent death at sickness's end, but the death of the slaughterhouse. The hollow sound of the hooves was urgent, as if the horsemen had business with the horrors that had choked Paris' gutters with blood.
It was a hot evening. If it had not been for the stink in the city it would have been a beautiful evening. The roofs were outlined with startling clarity against a watercolor sky. Clouds banded the west where the sun, like a huge, blood-red globe, was suspended over the horizon.
The whole summer of 1792 had been hot. The soldiers who had gone north to fight the invading Austrians and Prussians had marched through Paris with a grime of sweat and dust caked on their faces. Rumor said that those soldiers were now losing the war on France's northern frontier, and that too had made this city fearful.
The summer had been so hot that the leaves, withered and dry, had fallen early. On the day that the King was taken prisoner, he had walked from the Tuileries Palace to the National Assembly and his son, the dauphin, had kicked the piles of fallen leaves into the air as if it was a game. That had been the second week of August, only the second week, yet the leaves had fallen. Never, it was said, had there been a summer so hot, a heat that had not diminished as autumn came, that turned the corpses into the stench which fouled the exhausted city.
The four horsemen rode into a square where martins dipped over the darkening cobbles. They slowed their horses to a walk.
Facing the four men was a great building with an imposing archway. The gates were open. In the entrance of the building was a small crowd, oddly cheerful and noisy on this evening of silence and fear. The people in the small crowd were tired, yet the bottles from which they drank, and the memories of their great day, gave them a feverish energy and ebullience. Nearly all of them wore soft red hats that sat rakishly on their long hair.
The oldest of the four horsemen motioned with his hand for his companions to hold back while he rode on alone. The crowd, eager for more excitement, came to meet him.